Domesticity Nouveau

Monday, September 5, 2011

Roast Chicken

Basic Roast Chicken

When you are learning to cook, a roast chicken sounds like a worthy goal to accomplish.  You imagine that golden bird coming out of the oven, crispy skin, tender meat... the smiles of your friends and family as they gasp at your new abilities... But then you start reading recipes and find that the instructions have oven temperatures ranging from 325 to 450 degrees and cooking times from 30 minutes to 2 hours!  What should be simple becomes overwhelmingly confusing.

I could explain all the intricacies with using a lower temperature over a higher temperature, basting with broth vs. basting with butter vs. not basting, etc.  But really, all you want is to know how to roast a chicken, plain and simple, so you can feed your belly.

Heat + Time = Cooking

Roasting a chicken is simply a matter of putting a whole chicken (or its pieces) in an oven safe vessel, placing it in a hot oven and waiting long enough for it to be done.   I refer to it as ‘Dump and Shove’ cooking.... dump on some seasoning, shove it in the oven...  Wah-lah, easy dinner!

One piece of cooking equipment I think is essential for cooking poultry is an instant read thermometer.  I bought mine for under $10 and it takes the guess work out of knowing if something is done or not.  When you are learning to cook, it will be your best friend when working with meat.

Roast Chicken

Whole chicken or chicken pieces, bone in

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.   Remove Chicken from its wrappings.  Check inside the cavity of whole chicken for giblets and remove.  Dry surface of chicken with a paper towel.  Place whole chicken or chicken pieces in baking dish.   Sprinkle on your seasoning of choice.  Bake for 30-90 minutes, until done (165 degrees).  Remove from oven and rest 10 minutes before carving or serving.

Okay, okay, you have questions!  Good!

Why 400 degrees?
The temperature is adjustable.  If you have something else baking at 425 degrees or want it to take a little longer at a lower temperature so you can watch a movie, simply adjust your timer up or down.  I like 400 degrees because it nicely browns the outside without drying out the insides.  Hotter tends to overbrown/burn the skin while waiting for the inside to finish cooking.  Lower tends to not brown the outside as well and can dry out the chicken after being in the oven for an extended period of time.  If you need to cook at a higher temperature, part way through cooking you might need to LOOSELY lay a small piece of foil on top of the whole chicken to prevent it from burning.

Giblets?  What are those, what do I do with them?
The giblets are the heart, liver & kidney of your bird.  Often the neck is included as well.  If you have critters in your home, they make a great treat, just give them raw or after a quick pan fry.  Many people find these bits delicious and you might want to save them for your own treat.  Other people add them to their bone broth for added nutrition.  If you don’t find those options agreeable, just pitch ‘em. 

Why do I need to dry my chicken?  Don’t I need to wash it first?

Nope, don’t rinse your chicken.  Here’s the word from the USDA on safe Poultry handling:

So just pop that chicken, or pieces thereof, out of the package and pat them dry with a paper towel.  This helps the skin to crisp up.  It isn’t an essential step, if you forget, you’ll still get a nice roast chicken.

One note on good kitchen hygiene practices...  If you are going to be prepping veggies as a side dish, do those first to assure that no raw chicken juices or bits cross contaminate your side dish.

What seasonings do I use?
This is always a matter of personal taste and what YOU want in YOUR mouth.  Salt and pepper are the easiest and most basic.  The whole roast chicken in the pictures has smoked paprika, salt & pepper.  The individual roast pieces have garlic powder, salt and pepper (a household standard).  You might want to try chili powder, onion powder, celery salt, Adobo seasoning, cumin, ginger powder, Mrs. Dash, poultry seasoning, shallot salt, a BBQ rub.... let your imagination run wild with the flavors you enjoy!  Remember, though, you can always add, you can’t take away.  As you are learning, be gentle with your seasonings until you get a feel for how much you like.  2-3 tsps of most spices is enough to start with.  It really is worth the time to find a few seasoning blends that you find particularly happy in your mouth.  It makes a quick and easy meal that much more satisfying!

I just put it in a baking dish?

Yeppers.  If you have a baking rack that fits in your dish, that truly is the best way as it keeps the chicken out of the juices and helps all sides to get browned.  If you don’t have a baking rack that fits in your dish, you can try a few thick slices of onion to keep the chicken elevated.  (The added bonus of this method is some yummy onions to serve as a side dish.)  If you don't have a baking dish, a rimmed cookie sheet will work, but make sure it is rimmed so the drippings don't run off the side and start an oven fire... EEK!  So to sum it up:  in the dish – good, on some onion slices – better, on a rack – best.  Don’t let a missing rack, no baking dish, or lack of onion stop you, just work with what you have.  Cooking isn’t about perfection!

I don’t have to tie the legs up?
Nope.  Some argue that it makes for a better presentation, but I’m eating it, not using it as a centerpiece.  In addition, leaving the bird au natural creates more surface area for the heat to reach the meat, and we all want dinner sooner than later.  If you want, feel free to tie those ankles (do chickens have ankles?) together.  It’s your bird to cook and present how you want!  You may need to add 10 minutes or so to your cooking time.

It is best to pin the wings.  Just tuck that end piece back and under.  It prevents them from hanging over the edge and dripping onto your oven’s floor.  It also prevents them from over cooking.

That’s an awfully big time window, how do I know when it is done?
Smaller bird, or individual pieces,
take less time to cook.
Pieces are usually done in 30-40 minutes.
The most reliable way to tell if a chicken is done is to insert an instant read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, but not near a bone.  You want a temperature of 165 degrees.  Check individual pieces at 30 minutes and a whole chicken at 45 minutes.  Figure an additional 1-2 minutes for each degree you need to increase, i.e. you checked and the thermometer said 160.  You will likely need an additional 5-10 minutes and then recheck.  In my oven, a 5 pound bird takes around an hour to cook to 165 degrees.  Another method is to make a slice into the deepest part of the meat to assure it is no longer pink and juices run clear or golden (not pink).  By making a slice you lose some of the juices and if you have to continue cooking, run the risk of a dry piece of meat where you sliced.  One other less reliable way to assess doneness is to shake your chicken’s hand, or ankle as the case is.  A wimpy, sloppy, loose shake is bad for first impressions, but likely means you bird has cooked through.  

Hey!  Wait a minute; you didn’t say anything about basting.  How do I do it?
You don’t.  It really is not necessary to achieving a tasty roast chicken.  I find it to be unnecessary fussing that takes away from my wine drinking.  I have spent time basting in the past, and honestly, it doesn’t seem to make a lick of difference to my outcome, so I say: Skip it!  If you want to, because that is how your Nana did it, by all means feel free.  You certainly are not going to ruin it.  About 20-30 minutes into your cooking time, pull the bird and pan out of the oven and spoon any juices over the top.  Or stick a glob of butter on a fork and rub it all over the hot bird.  Now repeat that every 10 minutes until your chicken is done cooking... tedious, huh!?

Why do I need to let it rest?

Besides the fact that it just came out of a 400 degree oven, is lava hot and will burn your tongue, it allows the juices to redistribute in the meat.  It also lets any residual heat finish up the cooking.  While it is resting is the perfect time to steam up some vegetables and open a bottle of wine.

Now how do I carve it?
Don’t.  Just sit down and go at it with your hands.  Alright, alright, not everyone embraces their inner cave-person.  Carving is easier to explain with a demonstration, so here is a video that will walk you through it... but seriously, consider the fun of reenacting a dinner from the theme restaurant Medival Times and have plenty of napkins handy!

Yummy caramelized onions!
A few parting thoughts...  Since you already have the oven going, you might as well roast two chickens.  It is great to have left-overs for lunch or dinner another night.  And save those bones for a yummy broth!  Being roasted adds a nice depth that raw bones don’t have.  Just pop them in the freezer until you are ready to make your broth.

Up next... Homemade Sugar Free Ketchup!

***edit 9/5/2011 - I forgot one important key piece of info!  If you are doing pieces, make sure to leave the skin ON!!!  You can take it off later if you don't like it, but it protects the meat from drying out while baking.

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